Movie/Binge Review 11: The Irishman

Martin Scorsese remains one of the best American filmmakers alive with his dignity intact. Where his contemporaries have put down the camera or resigned themselves to monotony, he has only gotten better with age. He hit his stride with Goodfellas and year after year since he has put out some of the most memorable movies in history. People may not remember Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, but no one has forgotten Gangs of New York or The Departed. And in his 77th year, Scorsese brings it all full circle in a return to his mobster roots.

The Irishman is the culmination of his past work on the genre, cast with the actors that helped Scorsese achieve success. Robert De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a real-life hitman under Russ Bufalino, played by Joe Pesci. Together they contend with Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino, a trucker union legend that disappeared in 1975. No one has yet found his remains or trace of what may have happened to him and Irishman attempts to shed some light of what could.

All the hallmarks of a Scorsese film are on display with notable changes. His signature fast editing is mostly non-existent with an emphasis on a slow, contemplative pace throughout. That is not to say the movie is not as snappy or humorous as his previous work. Irishman is serious, but not without cunning Italian wit similar to Goodfellas and Casino. It is a movie that needs to take its time or you miss the whole point, with many long takes that hold on shots.

Irishman is a long film, the longest in Scorsese’s filmography from what I can tell. Almost all of that time is spent making the characters appear human and real. Regardless of the subject matter, whether the characters are mobsters or monsters, they are written and acted in a way that you can almost excuse their crimes. Costello from Departed may have been a paranoid psychopath, but it was very easy to like him. The same can be said for Nicky from Casino.

Sheeran, Russ, and Hoffa are given about as much depth and personality as characters from a long-form television show. Before the movie is over you feel like you have known them for years. Despite all their criminal activity, you care about them, and want to see where they will end up. You have so much fun and want more that the near four-hour runtime feels like nothing.

Those characters are the heart and soul of The Irishman and you should just go watch it without me having to explain more. While I was thankful to have the chance to see the film in a theater, it was always going to come to Netflix. Everyone and their grandmother has Netflix and they have already seen it by now. Unless you live in a foreign country that has restrictions on Internet, you have no reason to not watch this movie. Otherwise, you’re a mook.

Movie Review: Heist

You probably never heard of Heist when it came out. Like Z for Zacharia, it had a limited theatrical release before going to video. The reason I know about it is because it stars Gina Carano, an MMA fighter whom I am a fan of. In addition to being adorable as all fuck, I think it is cool she can kill people with her hands. I started paying attention to her after Red Alert 3 before I saw Haywire, Fast And Furious 6, and a direct to video feature called In the Blood. The quality of her acting is subjective, but I think Carano works best as a stunt actor like Arnold Schwarzenegger. She is certainly a better actress than Ronda Rousey if I am being honest. Did Heist prove my fandom is misplaced or was it a serviceable action movie?

In an effort to secure funds for his daughter’s surgery Vaughn, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, robs a riverfront casino run by Pope played by Robert De Niro. When things go wrong and the getaway driver abandons his crew, Vaughn hijacks a bus and makes his way to Mexico with police in pursuit.

Basic is the operative word here. If you know about heist movies, you know how it goes. You have the down trotted hero, resorting to crime, and feels justified because he is doing it to bad people. After the job goes south, the hero is left in a sticky situation, there is a twist, a big reveal, and in the end the hero gets what he wants.

Heist is a simple, low-budget Ocean’s Eleven meets Speed. A good chuck takes place on the bus as it moves across state lines. While on the move, he has to negotiate with the police, manage his unstable crew in the form of Dave Bautista’s Cox, and try to deal with hostages without coming off as the bad guy. It does what you expect and it is not especially bad in any outstanding way.

Its problems are in regards to quality. While that sounds inconsiderate because it is low budget, it has been proven time and time again that budget does not matter if you know what you are doing. The Raid cost 1.1 million and it was the best action movie of 2012 next to The Avengers. Heist cost 8.9 million and in many respects it is poorly made.

The editing gave me a headache because there was a cut to one of five angles every half-second. It was elaborate for no reason, like the director was afraid he would not get the right shot, so he filmed and used all of them for one mess of a final cut. Seriously, how hard is it to shoot four guys at a table? And then there are the CG muzzle flashes and debris explosions. Granted, Raid used them too, but only in the beginning before it became 80 minutes of a bunch of Asians cutting each other. Also, the vault set had cinderblock walls in a place that supposed to be a boat… I guess the decorators were too lazy to cover the walls in aluminum paneling and paint them a color that matched the room.

I admit Carano is not the best actress, but if you give her enough to do, she will make the most of it. As the character Chris, she does nothing in the 30 minutes of screen time or get into a fight, the area in which she is an expert. The rest of the cast did well with Morgan as the thief with a heart of gold heart. Bautista was also great and Chestnut seemed to enjoy himself in the zealous psycho role of Dog. And De Niro acted circles around the entire cast as he usually does.

All in all, Heist works as an average crime movie, but it is not for fans of Carano. While she was not every active in Fast and Furious 6, she at least had people to punch. If you like crime-dramas, I suppose it is worth a rental.

Movie Review: Joy

The end of December was weird for me. A lot of movies came out around the time I was out of town like Creed, Sisters, The Big Short, Point Break, Concussion, and Daddy’s Home. By the time I returned I wanted to make an effort to see them and never did. Either I was lazy, frugal, or keeping focus on the more recent releases. What matters is I was inconsistent in my work and I apologize. Starting this month, I will be addressing some of those movies in addition to ones that never came out. The first is Joy from director David O. Russell.

Compelled to break away from the confines of her life at home, Joy, played by Jennifer Lawrence, decides to pursue her dream of being an inventor. After creating the Miracle Mop, she becomes entrenched in the world of business and must fight her way to success.

The problems of Joy are also the reason why it works. Based the three movies I have seen (American Hustle, Sliver Linings Playbook, and Three Kings) and what I know from hearsay, Russell lets his actors do what they want and uses the rhythm of their performances determine where scenes go. I also get the impression he wants to be like Scorsese in the way he directs with a lot of zooms, pans, improv, and Rolling Stones in the score. Sometimes it works, but it always feels like Russell is trying too hard.

His method of directing actors hurts his movies. Silver Linings was okay, but I had to turn off American Hustle 40 minutes in because there was this strong air of apathy. No one seemed to care about telling a consistent story as they shouted stories at one another and went all out off script. Apparently, Russell did not care either and if the director and his actors are not going to care about telling a story, why should I about watching it?

In Joy the craziness fits with what it is trying to do. At the beginning there is a sequence of a run-of-the-mill soap opera with outrageous characters, serving as a framing device for Joy’s arc. She is afraid of becoming like her family, the personification of a soap opera. Her dad is a doddering old businessman and womanizer. Her mother is a recluse who hates men. Her ex-husband is a failed singer focused on attaining success. Her dad’s girlfriend is an aging widower that acts like a mobster. Each of the character’s actors are at full volume, taking control of scenes and doing what ever they want. De Niro is charming, Madsen is timid, Rossellini is fearsome, and Ramirez is ambitious.

While I advocate giving actors freedom to do what they want, artistic liberty ground Joy‘s pacing to a halt. Where there was a clear focus throughout, the places where the cast had free reign to improv dragged the runtime. As a result, the story meandered between longs stops as it struggled to reach one plot relevant detail to another. It was a frustrating sit as you just wanted the movie to get to the point, but the actors wanted to show you how good they are. It is a paradoxical problem because it works for what the movie is trying to do, but it is a pain to endure.

Being performance driven, Joy was mostly okay. Everyone except Joy was a one-dimensional sociopath, but because that was on purpose it is forgivable. Bradley Cooper pops up for half an hour and does his usual cool-guy shtick, minus the charisma. Like a lot of her movies, Lawrence is the best part. I do not know if she is just that amazing or her costars make a conscious decision to be average so she shines the brightest. Either way, this film was her bitch just like all the rest.

At this time I do not think Joy is in theaters anymore. With the flood of new releases, the success of Star Wars, and its lukewarm reception when it came out, I cannot imagine why it would stay in circulation. If you have an interest, I am afraid you will have to wait until it is out on DVD. For all its problems, I find it can be inspirational with its premise and it makes a good case for capitalism and egalitarianism.